01.05.01. Background | New Zealand

01.05.01. Background | New Zealand

14 Sep 2022

New Zealand is a constitutional monarchy whose head of State is the Sovereign, Queen Elizabeth II of New Zealand. The Governor-General is the Queen’s representative in New Zealand. New Zealand’s Parliament consists of the Sovereign and the House of Representatives. New Zealand’s Parliament has only one chamber (the House of Representatives) and there is no upper house such as a senate. The House of Representatives consists of members of Parliament who are elected as the people’s representatives for a term of up to 3 years. New Zealand has no single written constitution or any form of law that is higher than laws passed in Parliament, with the rules about how government works contained in a number of Acts of Parliament.

New Zealand’s House of Representatives is elected using the mixed member proportional representation (MMP) voting system. Each elector has two votes — one for a local member of Parliament and one for a preferred political party. Political parties are represented in Parliament in proportion to the share of votes each party won in the party vote in the general election (New Zealand Parliament, 2016).

There are two tiers of government in New Zealand – Central government and Local government.

  • Central government makes decisions affecting New Zealand as a whole.
  • Local government looks after the interests and needs of specific communities through regional, city or district councils.

Central government:

  • runs housing, welfare, education, health, justice, immigration, the police, energy, the national road, and rail systems, defense, foreign policy, and public finances,
  • regulates employment, import and export, and workplace safety,
  • levies personal income tax, business taxes, and GST (the goods and services tax that is added to almost all goods and services in New Zealand).

Local government bodies:

  • provide local services like water, rubbish collection and disposal, sewage treatment, parks, reserves, street lighting, roads, local public transport, and libraries,
  • process building and environmental consents and administer other regulatory tasks,
  • levy taxes on property, which are called ‘rates’.

There are two levels of local government – regional councils and territorial authorities (district and city councils).

  • Regional councils are primarily responsible for environmental resource management, flood control, air and water quality, pest control, and, in specific cases, public transport, regional parks and bulk water supply.
  • Territorial authorities are responsible for a wide range of local services, including roads, water reticulation, sewerage and refuse collection, libraries, parks, recreation services, local regulations, community and economic development, and town planning.

Sometimes, city and district councils combine to create a unitary council. In November 2018, NZ had 78 councils:

  • 11 regional councils
  • 61 territorial authorities (50 district councils and 11 city councils)
  • 6 unitary councils.

Councils must consult with their community when making decisions (Immigration New Zealand, n.d.-a; n.d.-b; New Zealand Government, 2020).


Immigration New Zealand. (n.d.-a). Central Government. Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment website. Available from: https://www.newzealandnow.govt.nz/living-in-nz/history-government/central-government.

Immigration New Zealand. (n.d.-b). Local Government. Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment website. Available from: https://www.newzealandnow.govt.nz/living-in-nz/history-government/local-government.

New Zealand Government. (2020). How government works. New Zealand Government website. Available from: https://www.govt.nz/browse/engaging-with-government/government-in-new-zealand/.

New Zealand Parliament. (2016). Our system of government. New Zealand Parliament website. Available from: https://www.parliament.nz/en/visit-and-learn/how-parliament-works/our-system-of-government/.